Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Return to Public School for Kids (And Their Parents)

A recent Allstate commercial poses the question of how, in the future, we will view the current economic crisis. More or less, that question is, “Will we remember this as the Great Depression or the depression that made us great?” The moral of this anti-materialism, pro-family ad is that when people simplify, their life gets better. Ask any unemployed parent and you’ll know for sure that this isn’t true, but it’s a nice sentiment none-the-less.

In today’s “USA Today” there was an interesting article about how the economy has forced some families to pull their children out of non-public (i.e., private or independent) schools and put them back into public school. In my opinion, this is a good thing. There are certain symbols of our country that deserve to not only be preserved but celebrated and I think that public schools are right up there with Lady Liberty, Election Day, and the national parks. Basically, the way I see it, the more diverse the school community, the better the school. Likewise, the larger the pool of involved parents, the better it is for the school. I believe in free choice and so my heart goes out to folks who can no longer afford “the best possible school” for their children, but there’s a whole country full of Americans out there who are in the same boat. Climb on in, grab an oar, and start rowing, people. We’re all headed in the same direction. Of course we all want what’s best for our kids.

The public schools can’t fix themselves. They are underfunded and undersupported as it is. There is also a dearth of intellectual capital which I hope can be remedied by the reintroduction of highly-educated families into PTA’s and PTO’s. As more kids return to their local schools, districts will have less need to shut down buildings and overcrowd the remaining classrooms. Sports programs, from freshman to varsity, might once again be sustainable. Let's bring back the school play! I believe that the public schools can be as good as the public allows them to be. When families are sending their kids and grandkids, nieces, nephews, and cousins to a public school, then that many more people want to see the school succeed; that many more people will work to see the school succeed.

According to the US Department of Education, over the past three years enrollment in public schools has grown by 1% while it has dropped by 2.5% in non-public schools. I see a silver lining in this cloud. I see a chance for more of our public schools to be great. Keeping in mind that this is a deeply personal issue for many people, please let us know how you see it...

The article: http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2010-01-06-1Apublicprivate06_CV_N.htm?obref=obinsite
And another: http://www.allbusiness.com/education-training/education-systems-institutions/11818830-1.html


  1. HI Randy,

    I posted a review of Teacher Haiku at my haiku web site. I wanted to do a "haiku interview" with you about it but can't find a contact email for you. Mine is kelly at haiku by two dot com.

    Here is the review:

  2. aybe we'll get better than average flavors in the ice cream shop of life!!

    The Blueberry Story: The teacher gives the businessman a lesson by Jamie Robert Vollmer

    "If I ran my business the way you people operate your schools, I wouldn't be in business very long!"

    I stood before an auditorium filled with outraged teachers who were becoming angrier by the minute. My speech had entirely consumed their precious 90 minutes of inservice. Their initial icy glares had turned to restless agitation. You could cut the hostility with a knife.

    I represented a group of business people dedicated to improving public schools. I was an executive at an ice cream company that became famous in the middle 1980s when People Magazine chose our blueberry as the "Best Ice Cream in America."

    I was convinced of two things. First, public schools needed to change; they were archaic selecting and sorting mechanisms designed for the industrial age and out of step with the needs of our emerging "knowledge society". Second, educators were a major part of the problem: they resisted change, hunkered down in their feathered nests, protected by tenure and shielded by a bureaucratic monopoly. They needed to look to business. We knew how to produce quality. Zero defects! TQM! Continuous improvement!

    In retrospect, the speech was perfectly balanced - equal parts ignorance and arrogance.

    As soon as I finished, a woman's hand shot up. She appeared polite, pleasant -- she was, in fact, a razor-edged, veteran, high school English teacher who had been waiting to unload.

    She began quietly, "We are told, sir, that you manage a company that makes good ice cream."

    I smugly replied, "Best ice cream in America, Ma'am."

    "How nice," she said. "Is it rich and smooth?"

    "Sixteen percent butterfat," I crowed.

    "Premium ingredients?" she inquired.

    "Super-premium! Nothing but triple A." I was on a roll. I never saw the next line coming.

    "Mr. Vollmer," she said, leaning forward with a wicked eyebrow raised to the sky, "when you are standing on your receiving dock and you see an inferior shipment of blueberries arrive, what do you do?"

    In the silence of that room, I could hear the trap snap…. I was dead meat, but I wasn't going to lie.

    "I send them back."

    "That's right!" she barked, "and we can never send back our blueberries. We take them big, small, rich, poor, gifted, exceptional, abused, frightened, confident, homeless, rude, and brilliant. We take them with ADHD, junior rheumatoid arthritis, and English as their second language. We take them all! Every one! And that, Mr. Vollmer, is why it's not a business. It's school!"

    In an explosion, all 290 teachers, principals, bus drivers, aides, custodians and secretaries jumped to their feet and yelled, "Yeah! Blueberries! Blueberries!"

    And so began my long transformation.

    Since then, I have visited hundreds of schools. I have learned that a school is not a business. Schools are unable to control the quality of their raw material, they are dependent upon the vagaries of politics for a reliable revenue stream, and they are constantly mauled by a howling horde of disparate, competing customer groups that would send the best CEO screaming into the night.

    None of this negates the need for change. We must change what, when, and how we teach to give all children maximum opportunity to thrive in a post-industrial society. But educators cannot do this alone; these changes can occur only with the understanding, trust, permission and active support of the surrounding community. For the most important thing I have learned is that schools reflect the attitudes, beliefs and health of the communities they serve, and therefore, to improve public education means more than changing our schools, it means changing America.

    Copyright 2002, by Jamie Robert Vollmer